Chanel Fortier transitioned her life to hit the open road. The lifestyle is rewarding, but she warns it’s not easy, and it’s not for everyone
A lucrative job in the financial world, a 3,700 square-foot house and a comfortable life in Kansas just wasn’t making Chanel Fortier fulfilled anymore. After what she called a “spiritual awakening,” she started uncluttering her life, donating possessions, donating furniture, and getting ready to take her life on the road across America in a custom brand new RV build. She downsized into an apartment to make the first shift in downsizing her life for a few months, while her RV was being completed. “It’s a really significant process,” Fortier said.
Downsizing your life is harder than you might imagine, Fortier said, noting that not only is donating and selling your possessions time consuming, but you discover emotional attachments to objects you didn’t realize existed. It’s a little more complicated than having a yard sale and buying an RV. “I did not have the patience and time to sell everything, so I just ended up donating all of my belongings,” Fortier said.
“With getting rid of your things, there’s a grieving process. The psychology (of downsizing) is fascinating. There were certain things I couldn’t let go of,” Fortier, 37, said over dinner in Navarre, Florida in December 2021, as she was packing things up to hit the road again, this time with her sights set on southern Florida. She’d just spent two months living on a beachfront RV park with her three dogs, enjoying autumn in the white sands of the western Florida panhandle.
Over the past few years, Fortier restarted her life as a remote Mental Health Therapist and Life Coach doing sessions via telehealth out of her RV. The van life trend was already taking off before the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 upended millions of lives across the United States, but mass adoption of remote work and a climate of isolation and uncertainty exacerbated the pangs of wanderlust for many. Fortier, however, was ahead of the curve. Prior to packing up into an RV, Fortier was already looking at ways to change up her life.
A solo trip backpacking overseas to Europe in 2018 crystalized her ambitions.
“How could I leave my finance career and find myself? I went to Iceland for 10 days, Paris, Provence, French Riviera for a month, stayed an extra two weeks with no return trip booked,” Fortier said. “Over the course of the trip, I knew I was gonna leave my finance business, but it’s scary. I’m gonna leave all of this financial stability to go into social work.”
When she returned from Europe, and started pursuing a second Master’s degree in social work in February of 2019, Fortier finally quit her full-time job in the summer of 2019. However, halfway through social work graduate school, she panicked.
“I started interviewing back in finance. I interviewed at two different finance companies in Kansas – I had lucrative offers, and I just said no,” Fortier said. “I decided to stay the course in social work.”
Despite questioning this path, Fortier knew she was committed to her life reset and forging a new path. So she pressed forward. A second Master’s degree in hand, house sold and RV finally acquired after a lengthy wait due to manufacturing delays, Fortier finally hit the road in August 2021. Her first stop when she left Kansas was Rye, Colorado, where she spent a month on a mountainside in her 17-thousand pound, 36-foot Coachman Mirada 35ES.
Fortier is barely five feet tall. The RV is basically three times her height. As far as mobile homes go, she’s living in style. Driving this behemoth, however, is not easy.
“Driving from Kansas to Colorado was terrifying. I thought the wind was gonna tip it over. I thought I’d lost air in the tires. I was fighting the steering wheel for hours,” Fortier said. “I was swerving lane-to-lane.”
It took Fortier several hundred miles to get used to driving a house up the highway.
“People on the road get agitated because you can’t go very fast. Maybe 60 or 65 miles per hour.” Fortier said.
While cost cutting was part of the plan when Fortier decided to downsize into an RV, she quickly learned it was nearly as cheap as she first anticipated. It’s certainly not as inexpensive as living out of a van, where she’d have far less space but infinitely more cost-effective boondocking options.
“In Florida, it can be anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000 or $3,500/month just to park the RV. When I added the RV payment and RV parks and fuel, it’s essentially a half-million dollar + house payment with utilities,” Fortier said. “(You’ve got to) be aware of the current rising fuel costs too.”
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Finding a parking location for a 36-foot RV is no easy task. Fortier says she called almost 50 RV camps, and most were booked out a year in advance in season in Florida.
“It gives me a little chuckle that I am officially a snowbird migrating south for the winter,” Fortier said.
She spent time in Facebook groups and on websites dedicated to the RV and van lifestyle to figure out where she could park, and how to manage her new life in the RV. Of course, going mobile comes with more challenges aside from just the costs and logistics, and it’s simply not for everyone.
“It can get really lonely, but I like a lot of alone time. I’m more of an introvert,” Fortier acknowledged. “I like to be home. I read often. At least a book a week. I meditate daily. I also work a lot of hours. I need a lot of my own alone time.”
Friends and family may not totally understand or support you, Fortier warned. And she’s very cognizant of the fact that she was well-positioned financially to take a leap that others may want to undertake but would struggle to afford.
“People thought it was crazy to leave that kind of money from my finance career. My friends were inspired, but several said they were not brave enough (to do what I’m doing). Several said they could never donate and give up their material possessions. She gave herself a year to figure out if she could make the RV lifestyle work.
“I knew doing something like this would push me beyond my comfort zone. This is a beautiful way to push myself into some major growth,” Fortier said. “Even when it’s challenging, I am thankful for every minute of this adventure.”
By all accounts, Fortier’s enjoying the journey, but her time in southern Florida is almost up. Her next stops? Utah and Arizona. She’s planning to host a yoga retreat in Sedona, Arizona June 3-7th, 2022, hike the Grand Canyon and experience the desert for the spring.
“I love my life and love this type of personal freedom,” Fortier said. “Just remember, you’re one decision away from an entirely new life.”